Monday, December 12, 2011

Chord by Chord



Years ago, in another life, I went to music school, and for four years got to indulge in that most nerdy of all analysis - music theory. By the time we graduated, if you handed me a score I could take it apart chord by chord and tell you its harmonic progression, no problem. Everyone in our class could, it came with the territory. We also had to chant the chords to "A Star Spangled Banner" while playing the piano as a prerequisite to crossing the stage at graduation, and one memorable night a bunch of us learned how to Texas two-step while singing the alphabet backwards, but those are different stories.

I've forgotten almost all my theory, and only twitter around with Caroline's piano music now, writing out the chords for improvised duets. I hadn't thought about the language behind the progressions for a very long time until our viol da gamba teacher from university posted today's video in Facebook. It's a terrific illustration of the way music is a language that we understand even if we don't know all the words.

If you're new to chord progressions, watch the video and pay attention to certain chords and their effect on you as listener (and also on the little doodle guy in the video). Watch out for those dramatic ii7s in particular!

I promise my next post will be something easier to swallow, but I couldn't resist sharing the little dude and his reaction to Mozart. Thanks June, for posting him!

9 comments:

Ellen said...

Sweet memories. How I loved the simplicity of writing a fugue. Am sure there is a link to current love of spreadsheets when just slightly overstressed...

Julia said...

I remember writing my fugues at 2 in the morning the night before they were due ;-).

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

"Writing out chords for improvised duets."

I would have given my left arm and the toes from both feet to have been able - truthfully - to include those few words in Tone Deaf.

I kiss the hem of your mouse mat.

Julia said...

LdP: I am sure you could learn how - what's your favorite simple tune (hymns are useful) and we can break it down together sometime.

Also, check out the wikipedia article on harmonic progressions and their collection of examples here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_chord_progressions

Green Girl in Wisconsin said...

Just awesome--I never knew about chord progression, but I adore this particular piece and the interpretation of the little stick man was great.

Anonymous said...

Love it. As a guitar player my mind is full of these symbols all the time. From a bluegrass tune to Mozart now I will have some little stick figures to sing along!! Your blog is amazingly beautiful with all your photos!
Love Hazel

Julia said...

GG - the interpretation was so cute, and right on. I have to admit that at the end (before I saw the little guy) I had my hands outstretched just the way he did on the last chord.

Hazel - thanks for stopping by! After watching the video, I really wanted to make my own set of slides to music. It's quite fun to imagine.

Lorenzo da Ponte said...

This won't be a very Christmassy comment (if you want that click on the CHRISTMAS ORATORIO link on Tone Deaf for the best-recorded introductory drumming ever) but I am stirred by your touching belief in my intellect and have decided to take heed of all this stuff about chords and do a piece about the principles of jazz improvisation (preferably in 300 words). This lurch into the unknown is based solely on the discovery that triads are involved and I do, in fact, know what a triad is - have played them as exercises on the trumpet. When finished this masterpiece of compression will be submitted to you for your techno-approval. But don't hold your breath. Spring would be quite an early deadline.

In the meantime my secular (but nevertheless heartfelt) wishes to you and yours, all of sudden brought closer to me through the sad recent scenes from Prague on the TV newsreels. Not many poets/playwrights get that kind of attendance at their funerals. Velky muz - sorry about the missing accents.

Lucy said...

How clever you are, the viol de gamba is particularly impressive!

Have a wonderful Christmas, all of you.